04 March, 2015


It was her posture that caught my eye. At first glance, she appeared an old woman in rags, shuffling about the camp and serving the soldiers. At second glance, I realised that she was in fact a young woman dressed in dirty soldier cast offs that were several sizes too large for her. When next she came near to pour more tea for the men sitting beside me, I examined her grimy face and unkempt hair. Her ankles were bound with clanking chains, hence the reason for the shuffling.

To see so many scars is not unusual in the war, but somehow, whenever I see young children and women marked in such a way, an unfathomable sadness wells up within me. Often, they are given these lifelong reminders of the war and its horrors through no fault of their own. When I asked my fellows about her, it took them some time to realise whom I was referring to.

“She arrived the night after saboteurs planted a bomb that took out Marsden’s company. Word was that she was one of the saboteurs, but was given a reprieve for some reason,” Sharon, one of the body building blokes rumbled. With muscles his size, nobody would ever dare question him about his name. “Some of us were set on killing her when we had the chance, but after she’d been here a while, we started questioning whether she really was a spy.”
“She’s more like a deranged refugee,” Tim scratched at a crooked tooth and made a whirly loopy sign to the side of his head. “There’s something not quite right up there.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She’s kind of dumb,” Jan snorted and spat, his phlegm barely missing the Sharon’s foot.
“Not that it stopped any of you boys from taking revenge on her or using her,” Sharon elbowed Jan in disgust, completely knocking the man off his crate.
“So? A bitch is a bitch,” Jan shrugged, carefully resuming his seat in case Sharon decided to knock him down again. “And if she could talk, who she gonna complain to?”
“A dumb bitch like that,” Tim rolled his eyes at their antics, “would never have snuck into our camp, planted a bomb, snuck out again, and then set the bomb off. She would have blown herself up before she even got into the camp or been caught by the guards. They reckon the guy who set the bomb blew himself up with it.”
“Stupid girl was sitting in the middle of a thorn bush when we found her,” Sharon shakes his head in disbelief. “When we pulled her out, she didn’t even resist. That’s not to say she didn’t try to escape. Although after the Captain talked to her, she did go kinda crazy. I wonder what he said.”

At my questioning look, Tim clarified.
“He means Captain Peters with the impossible first name starting with a ‘P’. Bloke was killed last month, so you wouldn’t have met him. Great guy. Fun to hang with. Hey, you guys remember the time he had a drinking competition and out drank even Hein Steinz?”
Sharon shook with laughter at that.
“Captain drank us so under the table that when the Major came round the next morning, we were still drunk, but the Captain was still as perky as ever. Covered up for us by saying we’d had food poisoning because of some bad meat and then offered the Major some leftovers.”
“What about the time he got us together with a bunch of – ”
Sharon knocked Jan off his crate before he could finish his sentence, glaring a warning at the scrawnier man and then looked grinning round at us all.
“Anyway, Danno, you missed having the best captain a soldier could have. Captain Anders is all right, but man, you would have loved Captain Peters.”

I watched the young-old woman, hunched and shuffling like she was decades older, wondering what indignities she must have suffered at the hands of men like Jan, who only thought for their own comfort and amusement.

All three men drank a toast to their fallen Captain’s memory, eyes swimming with tears; except for Jan who was now watching the woman as I was, albeit with a nasty expression on his already ugly face. For a moment, I was glad I was not the woman. Immediately, I was ashamed that my first thought hadn’t been for her safety and excused myself from the group of friends who had fallen sullen and silent, staring at the fire.

Later that night, I was returning from using the cleaner officer’s toilets under the cover of darkness, when I heard a noise. Walking as silently as my boots would allow me on the sandy gravel of the road, I saw Jan approach the old-young woman who appeared to have just been leaving the kitchens. In the cast off light of a lit window, I saw suds still gleaming on her arms. The moment she saw Jan, she crumpled to the ground without a sound, forcing him to drag her out of the patch of light and back into the shadows.

For a moment, I was assailed with two thoughts. One that every soldier did it and that I shouldn’t interfere, forgetting for a moment that I was a soldier now too; and two that I should save her, at least to ease the guilt that would otherwise lie upon my conscience. It was clear that the other soldiers no longer saw her as another human being and my need to blend in warred with my sense of decency.

In the end I followed the sounds of a body being dragged and Jan’s grunts. What I was going to actually do, I wasn’t sure.

We ended up in the parking lot and Jan dropped the woman on the ground between two trucks.

“Thought you could avoid me?” I heard Jan sneer amidst the sound of something striking meat. “It may have been a while, but it doesn’t mean that I’d forgotten about you. You think everyone’s taken in by your stupid act? You and I know better, don’t we? Why else would Captain Peters tell me to kill you in the case we lost the war or the camp was overrun? You know something – some secrets and I mean to force them out of you eventually. You’re an enemy spy. I know you are. He was a stupid man, the Captain was. Always thinking he was better than anybody else, just because he could hide his dirty side better than the rest of us. We saw the real side to him that time he got a bunch of us guys together to teach you a proper lesson. I could organise an orgy like that again, if you’d like. You should’ve been executed like the rest of the spies.”
“Kill me then.”

The words were slurred, but distinct.

I thought Jan had said she couldn’t speak. I think he’d believed that himself, because there was silence for almost a full minute. And then he began to laugh. I wanted to block my ears from the ugly sound.

“So you can talk,” Jan said in between chuckles. I crept closer to see. “All this time and I was right and they were wrong.” There was a sharp schick of a knife being pulled out from its sheath. “You wanna die? I can help you with that, but tell me first why the Captain didn’t kill you himself.”
“Just kill me,” I saw the woman’s body jerk upright and her arms latch onto Jan’s, making him yell in surprise, trying to force the knife down toward her body. “Kill me. Just kill me!”

There was a struggle for a moment, but eventually Jan fought her off and threw her to one side, holding his knife clear of her.

“You’re crazy, you know that?” he said calmly, putting the knife away. “I get it now. You’re desperate to die, but too scared to kill yourself. It all makes sense to me now. You wanted to die, so the Captain let you live. You’re no spy and if you were one once, you’re not now.”

He kicked her and laughed.

“Cos you’re nothing,” he leaned in and said in her ear, holding her hands clear of his belt. He forced her back down onto the ground and when she let loose a sob, he laughed again, moving with greater urgency to get any clothes out of his way.

I picked up a stone and threw it some distance away, making him pause for a moment.

Unexpectedly, footsteps crunched toward where I’d thrown the stone and I crouched down.

“Oi, Jan, where you gone?” Tim’s voice called. “What’s taking so long to take a piss and what are you doing out here? You gonna get us in trouble tomorrow with your gear the mess it is. Sharon’s about ready to wring your neck.”

Cursing under his breath, I heard Jan zip his pants back up and walk out to Tim.

“You just wrecked a perfectly romantic moment, you idiot.”
“Your dick ain’t going anywhere,” Tim snorted, disgust evident in his voice. “Don’t see what interest you have in a ragdoll like that anyway. There’s no fun in beating someone who’s already down. It’s just sick and you’re a dickhead thinking she’s a spy.”
“She ain’t a spy. Not anymore,” Jan crowed.
“What’d you do?” Tim’s footsteps paused.
“Don’t worry. I just finally managed to make her talk.”
“I thought she was a mute. What did she say?” their footsteps resumed.
“She’s crazy. Just wanted me to kill her.”
“I’d want someone to kill me too if a bloke as ugly as you came after me – ow. What was that for?”

After their voices and footsteps had faded away, I slipped around the truck to where the young-old woman was still lying, my stomach feeling heavy at the fact that I hadn't really tried to save her - that I hadn't the guts to face up to a man like Jan. Although nothing much would have happened if I had been found aside from some dirty jokes, I still felt my heart racing and relief coursing through my veins.

“Hey. Hey, come on. They’re gone now. I’ll help you back to your lean to.”

She didn’t answer me. In the dim light, her eyes glimmered, staring up at the starry sky. In her right hand, Jan’s knife glinted.

02 March, 2015


It started out with a feeling, which then grew into a hope. Perhaps he had succeeded after all. Perhaps he had survived and was on his way back. Then again, perhaps he had survived, but been captured. I wasn't sure what to think after the explosion last night. We hadn't expected there to be any explosion at all and certainly nothing as attention catching as it had turned out.

Something had gone wrong, but Prparim hadn't been able to contact me. Something had been jamming our radio frequency.

Wars are funny things. What would normally be considered illegal and dangerous, becomes allowed when you've been given something vaguely like orders. Orders can be funny things too, particularly when they've purposely been worded vaguely. Still, sabotage is sabotage, no matter the dressing.

Even if Prparim has been captured, he won't be able to tell them anything, because he and I don't know anything. We don't work under any of the normal operations. In all the paperwork, we're just civilians. Displaced civilians - which is the truth. We have no one left and no where to go. We have been disavowed and any guerilla operations that fail will fall heavily upon our shoulders. We are the scapegoats. We have gotten used to being out in the open, but it doesn't mean that we like it.

Wait, that's not quite right. Correction. I don't know anything, but Prparim does. He is always near the centre of operations. I tend to group us together because we've been partners for so long, but I forget that we're not on the same level.

Whether I want to worry or not, it's like a spot I can't itch.

Hiding here in the bushes, not daring to leave although time was up an hour ago. What to do?

It's dark, it's rainy and cold - and even if I wanted to get out of here, I can't. Not with all those soldiers tramping the grass into the mud.

Are they looking for me?

I feel like a mouse in a hole, a pigeon in the scrub, a rabbit in the grass, just waiting for the hunters to pounce. Any moment now, I'll feel their claws digging into my skin, their jaws around my neck, while they beat me to death against the ground.

Hope is an amazing thing. With hope, you feel less cold, you can be hunted and still expect something good to happen. So long Prparim is alive, I don't mind what happens to me. So long he survives and escapes, it doesn't matter whether I'm dead or alive.

A bright light glares through the leaves, blinding me for a moment. A heavy hand latches around the back of my neck, grasps hold of my hair and drags me out of hiding. My captor yells and his fellows gather around. Mud flies. My scalp burns, twigs catch my clothes and the grounds scrapes me. Heavy weights smash into me from all angles, sparking fires wherever they mark me. I taste blood. I see the mud shining in the torchlight and feel its moist stickiness against my body.

All around me, anger explodes in fits and bursts; and I am tossed, kicked and dragged along the ground in turns. I don't even try to understand what they're shouting. They're mad because some of their mates have died in the explosion. I don't care, because there's no way Prparim could have survived it either and if he's dead, I might as well be too. Without him, my whole plan has failed. Everything I did had been for him. It is better to die quickly, than to be tortured and raped, forced into confessions that are barely true. They'd never admit to it, of course. They never do. They never have. Even Command never recognised any of the other ladies' complaints when we were in training.

Complaints. It makes such abuse sound so trivial.

I'm not doing this because I'm a patriot. I'm not here because I love my job. I'm here for Prparim because he asked me and of all the people left in the world, he's the only one I trust. I'm here because Command had killed my sister and tonight was to be my revenge. I'm here because I aim not to return. I just hadn't counted on Prparim insisting on taking my place. I hadn't counted on him blowing himself up, instead of escaping and hiding out somewhere until the war had ended. He knew. Surely he knew what I had done. I had practically shown him, daring me to stop me.

Perhaps he was as sick of the war as I was.

There's a pause in the strikes and through my rapidly swelling eyes, I see a gap, a chance, and I take it.

Cold wind stings my face and my knees don't seem able to bear my weight, but I force myself to stumble on. Faster and faster, but the wind passes me no quicker and there's mud oozing its way into the grazes on my knees. Heavy limbs weighed down by pain. Only my imagination races away. Blinding white flashes through my eyesight, starting from my right side and then everywhere else. I hear several cracks and a scream through the roaring in my ears.

The white fades and is replaced with a pair of boots. Familiar boots, familiar pants, familiar face, but an unfamiliar expression.

And I realise it was all a ruse.

Why would he fight for a country that never loved or cared for him? Why would he fight against the very country he was born in?
How had we ever believed him in the first place?

The explosion had taken me by surprise. It would take Command by surprise too and they would assume something had gone wrong and that we were dead.

I laugh at my stupidity - or well, I gurgle and cough and then cry silently while gasping, because broken ribs don't allow you to do anything more than shallow breathing. How had I never noticed all the problems we had encountered in our previous missions had taken place during a last minute change of plan - changed by Prparim?

I had trusted him and he had used me. Not unexpected, I suppose. To trust someone is to want them to use you for their own gain.

Here I was. The double-crossing scapegoat's scapegoat and I was about to die for something I didn't believe in.

I had been looking to die this mission, just not like this, but death is death and with it comes release from this dark life. In the end, I guess it's all the same.

  "Hi Gracie," his eyes gleam icy blue, even in this torchlight. "That bomb wasn't in the plan. You've killed a lot of men."

I can barely talk for the pain. I can hardly seem to catch my breath, but I can smile. Smile and laugh to myself.
Me? He's accusing me?
It won't be long now. I wonder if he ever cared about me. Will he miss me?

  "You almost killed me," he continues, squatting down and cupping my chin in his hand, forcing my head up. "I almost didn't get out in time."

The bomb was your plant. I only sped the timer up on a mechanism that was meant to make noise for a distraction that would trigger the signal early, so that the enemy would see me leaving and shoot me. You knew that. You saw it. You took my place, you traitor.

But the bomb killing so many of the enemy soldiers doesn't quite make sense. Why had they gone so far in order to deceive my people or are they deceiving their own people - or the outside world? Is Prparim keeping up appearances for my fighting countrymen? I don't understand.

  "I knew you were tiring of the war, but I never thought you'd try to kill me. It's a good thing I still care for you. I hurried here before they could beat you to death. There'll be a trial and you'll probably be sentenced, but don't worry, they've already agreed not to execute you on grounds that you are a simpleton and not quite sound in the head."

My eyes widen at the news and his smile grows whilst mine fades. Don't tell me. Don't tell me this is going somewhere I don't want to go. I would still rather die. The whole point was to get myself killed. If I don't die, what's the point? Everyone else I love is dead. I have nothing left to live for.

On the other hand, who is he calling a simpleton? How dare he?

  "I've already told them everything about our operations, so all you have to do is corroborate my version of events. Your Command will think you're dead, so to tell the truth, we don't even need to try you, but we have to keep up the show for the historians." He smiles, but it's not the gentle smile I remember. A corner of his lips twists it into a cruel smile. "Not that you're worth including in history. With my input, they already know that there are some things you fear worse than death. I hope you're ready for it. Oh, you're really hated in this camp for all those booby traps you laid and the nuisance you made of yourself. You were forever getting in the way of my plans too. It'll be good to finally see you get what you deserve."

I wince at that. It shouldn't hurt, but it does. I had never meant to be a burden to him. Not to him. Now though, I might have other ideas. My heart aches with the knowledge that the secrets I had spilled to him during the quiet of our missions have now become arrows to pierce me.

I'm never going to trust anyone ever again.

My wrists are pulled roughly behind my back and arms as thick as tree trunks lift me up from either side. I fight them. Futilely.

I refuse to go quietly to a fate far worse than death. I had escaped by joining the war effort and there was no way I was going back to that old life willingly.

Prparim is alive, but now, I wish he were dead.

I should have gone for a gun or weapon earlier, then they would have been forced to shoot me in order to acknowledge the threat. Never mind the fact that I don't know how to use a gun.

So much for my convictions.

I wish I'd had the guts to have killed myself earlier. It would have saved me from all this trouble.